The first day of summer camp. Excellent.
I stretch my tired limbs and seek my brother's warmth on the bottom bunk. The space is empty, yet I can still see his tiny, curled-up shape upon the blanket. He must have had another one of his bed dreams; he has them almost every night. At least he hasn't wet the bed this time. I'm always the one who has to clean it up.I shrug into my dressing gown - a waist-low jacket-type thing with fake mattered animal fur and a belt that my brother's puppy's chewed more than several times - and dismount the ladder to the floor. It's a little creaky, but the bolts are tight enough to hold both my and my brother's weight. I shuffle across the carpet into Mother's room. She's lying down in her holey pyjamas beneath the patterned duvet with my brother Tylor, hidden by the cotton sheet, his position un-identifiable. The calender hangs on the bedpost, today's date circled in red pen. Yep. Today's the day. As I pad down the stairs to the kitchen, I see my rucksack lying against the door, buldging at the edges. Mother must have already packed for me. I un-buckle it, slightly cautiously, as I don't know what my brother may have hidden inside. I tip the contents of the bag onto the floor and lie them all beside each other. It's the simple stuff: a packed lunch, a writing pad, my crystal collection (there's tons of them where we live), three pictures of Mother and Tylor, my scrapbook, my favorite 'knife' (really a stone I found with a scarily-sharp point that I attached to a stick with a vine. I still think it may be some kind of animal tooth, but I don't dare send it to a museum, in case I never see it again), Mother's treasured arrow head (a real metal one. Sadly, it's the one that killed my older sister, Vienna, when some hunters mistook her for an animal in the woods) and my favorite bedraggled football, which I can't live without. Next to it lies my suitcase, scraped at the corners, the buckle hard and stiff. I open it with difficulty, and the whole contents of my wardrobe is ironed and neatly folded, including my best boots - leather that, despite being far to small for my feet, are surprisingly comfortable.
The kitchen door bangs open and Tylor stands there, no taller than my hips, in a dressing gown identical to mine, clutching his teddy bear in his left hand and the world's ugliest puppy trailing behind him, the one with an eye missing, his tail far too long, and the tip of his left ear chewed off. That puppy loves me; it must have forgotten the time I tried to drown it in our garden pond.
"What's up, Tylo?" That's his nickname: Tylo.
"I'm not gonna see you for eight weeks! I'll miss you!" He lunges towards me, his chubby arms squeezing the very last breath from my lungs. I topple over, laughing uncontrollably. He's only five and incredibly adorable, with close-cropped ebony hair and emerald eyes and shallow dimples. "I'll miss you, Katalynn!""Hey, down, squirt!" My name's not really Katalynn, it's Katelynn, but I prefer his version; I'm booked in at school under Katalynn Huxley. Very few identify me as Katelynn. Tylor crawls off me and props himself up on his bony elbow. I stand up, my legs throbbing, and disarrange his hair with my palm, and he instantly copies me, but he can't strain his legs far enough to ruffle my tawny hair. A full pack of bacon is on the kitchen counter, the seal sliced open. I activate the hop, my thumb pressed upon the power button. The flame, a mixture of teal and sunset, flickers somewhat, and the hollow clunk of the frying pan slipping from my grip sends a chill down my spine. "You fancy bacon?" I inquire Tylor, and speak before he can reply. "Tough, you're having it." He beams, clasps my legs in his arms and runs into the living room.
A hunger has developed in my stomach and I wolf down a whole slice before I've even taken it from the hob. It singes my throat, the feeling of a fire filling my mouth but I don't care. In two hours I'm outta that door and going for two months.
I slice a few loaves of white bread with the sharpest knife I can find in the cluttered drawer and make three sandwhiches; two for me and one for Tylor. Mother normally cooks up her own breakfast.
"So...what are you doing at camp?" Tylor's incredibly curious, sometimes too curious, which has landed him in trouble several times. His speech is inaudible due to the fact that his mouth is choc-o-block with bacon and ketchup is crawling down his chin. I wince and throw him a napkin.
"Nothing special," I reply, trying to draw my eyes from my little brother's abominable eating habits. "Rock-climbing, archery, night walks...that kind of stuff," I divert the subject. "I'm off to play football after this - Mother will be up in about ten minutes. Mark my words. Now, how's school?" It seems arduous to think I'll be spending the last two hours here playing alone with a threadbare football whilst Tylor's begging me to come back, but I'm pretty sure I won't be alone. Jeremiah will be there. Mark my words.
After wolfing down all of the bacon (and choking on a shred of fat) I thrust the plate to the opposite end of the table and race up the carpeted stairs to the bedroom. It's not particulally large, is the room; it's a perfect cube, with a beryl bunk-bed positioned in the left corner, a chest of five drawers, half-painted silver lying directly next to the bed and a television, no bigger than fifteen inches, sits comfortably on a wall bracket upon the dusky turquoise walls, which reflects and makes every glass object shine an ugly shade of blue. Mother has fortunately left my favorite outfit suspended on the powerless heater adhered to the wall: a cinereal t-shirt with a copper jacket, some baggy, mahogany trousers that gather up at my ankles and a hair bobble with the minute (and obviously fake) head of a jaguar binded on. My boots are downstairs.
I smile and get changed into the outfit, and scrape my hair off my face and tie it in a braid with the bobble. I'm not going to bother going downstairs for my boots, so I delve through my drawers until I find my pair of ancient orchid trainers with entangled laces and chafed soles. They're not uncomfortable, but slightly taut. I don't want to wake Mother either - she's an extraordinarily heavy sleeper, but the sound of a car alarm outside will wake her up in a jiffy - which is helpful, because there's actually no need to go down the stairs if you want to escape this room.
I struggle open the hefty window, dodging the smashed sections and twisting the brass key as far as it will go until I hear the familiar click that signals the lock has given way. It's much more buckram that the fastening on my case, but I finally manage to strain the glass open. I slither through the gap, banging my head as I go, and plummet down onto the discarded mattress resting peacefully on the concrete, which was owned by Vienna (but was crawling with bedbugs). I land on my side, as landing on my feet would surely break either of my legs.
The gate's another obstacle I have to overcome. Rangy and towering, it's far too large for me to climb over, and you can barely shift the bolt a millimetre. I flatten out of my belly and, grazing my pale skin, slide under the block of wood with a pathelogical fear that it will fall on me every time like a guillitine blade. It's happened before and It's hard to tell if it will again.
The street is almost completely empty, the occasional car whizzing past, sending a gush of wind at my face. Mother knows I always go out at this time; she won't worry. I scuff my trainers along the pavement until I get to the turn-off road that leads to the park. Potholes, animal muck (and, on bad days, human muck) and sharp stones lie scattered around, so you have to watch your step. The yellow bar is down as an attempt to seal off any entrance, but I just jump it and carry on up the grassy bank to the skate park.
A football lies upon the blonde dust, obviously left by the other kids who come here at six in the morning. Right now it's eight. I search around for him, expecting him to pop out from behind a dust mound and startle me momentarily, but after ten minutes he's no where to be seen. Brilliant. What a waste of time.
As I hurdle the great golden barrier, his voice materialises out of nowhere.
"You think you're leaving without a game?" he asks, and a smile invades my lips before I can halt it, and I swivell round to see him standing there, and an identical smile to mine is the first thing I notice. Jeremiah Appleton, my best and probably only friend. The same age, the same birthday, the same personalities.
"You're not usually late. You're normally here before me," I remark, trying to smother my smile and replace it with a look of contempt (and failing)."Yeah, I know. I overslept and was behind with my paper round, which really annoys old Gregory," It's not the most convincing excuse, but it'll do. Mr Gregory is the owner of the papershop just across the road from our house. I hate him. I despise him. I loath him. Why? Because his wife is the reason my Father left us.
I don't like to recall that little incident, and Jeremiah is the only person who knows the juicy details. Mr Gregory's wife, Suzanne, and my Father had an affair behind our backs. Mother found out after about a year and, although she was prepared to forgive him, Father stormed out to start a new life with Suzanne. Now they're somewhere in France. Or America. Or China. Or dead. Mr Gregory had a heart attack following the shock, and Mother tried to carry on as normal. She did a decent job of it, and we celebrate his birthday every year; well, Mother and Tylor do. I can't forgive him just yet for walking out on us and leaving us with nothing. It happened when I was ten. Four and three-quarter years later, I'm still waiting for him to come home.
Jeremiah (or Jerry, as I like to call him. Jeremiah's a bit of a mouthful) realises what he's said due to the expression on my face and quickly brightens the mood. "So, excited about camp?"
I chortle and nod. "You're coming too, remember? I genuinley thought you weren't gonna sign up!" I say and make my way over to the football. The dust flies in my face as I boot the ball towards him.
"I can't believe I signed up, it sounds like it's for little kids. You know who else signed up in our school?"
I shake my head. "Who?!"
"Sydney Barkly," he begins. Syndney's a thirteen-year-old who acts like sheer royalty, and has a group of girls who follow her round and worship her, no matter how dumb she makes them look. "Anya Crossmen," I groan slightly. Anya's the best at sport in the whole school and can easily beat everyone in the hundred metres this Sports Day (which I will thankfully miss). "And Oscar Mortly." At this name I clench my fist and shoot the football over the park and down into the stream. No, not Oscar! He's the stuck-up, annyoing, unpleasant old sixteen-year-old whom everyone hates. But not as much as me. I met him exactly the same way I met Jerry - I punched him when he critisized me - only we didn't end up as friends. We ended up as mortal enimies.
"Oscar?! What is he doing? How am I supposed to make it through one week without pulverising him; never mind eight?!" I can imagine him and Jerry scrapping, as they always do. Me and him scrapping.
"Just bite your tounge whenever you're around him. And don't break his nose this time, that cost your poor mother a bomb!" commands Jerry before going to retrieve the ball from the lake. I follow him to the brow of the hill and look down as he wades into the water, which must be benumbing as he can't walk that far before giving up, climbing out and using a stick. Whenever I see him, I realise a new similarity between us every time. We look like siblings. Like twins. His hair is the exact same tawny colour as mine; our eye color isn't so far off, different shades of teal; he has a very stocky build, whereas I am not the strongest in the school but I floor being the strongest female in my year.
"I got it!" He pelts the leather ball up the hill and it hits me square in the chest, flattening me down. He helps me up, and notices something. I look down on my shirt to see where he's looking: the badge pinned on my shirt. It's a silver eagle, perched upon a branch with a ring surrounding the scene and the words 'Camp Ranger' engraved on.
"Where'd you get that?" he inquires.
"I got it when I signed up. Don't you have one?"
I unpin the badge, poking my finger through the already hole-filled fabric and pin it onto his olive t-shirt, the point stabbing at my thumb. "There. I don't even want it. Keep it for good luck. Anyway, I'll probably lose it, or Tylor's puppy will eat it. He eats anything."
"Like his owner?" banters Jerry, and we both crack up laughing. I climb up a dirt mound, chuckling, and trace the bike tracks with my feet. My bike hasn't been used for ages; someone (either Jerry or Tylor) let the tyres down and we can't find a pump anywhere, so I can't ride it. It's caked in metallic rust now - not ideal.
There's a hollow clunk down upon the main road that seperates us from my house. A hulking bus, the colour of cream with emerald highlights, sits next to a bus stop, loading on kids clutching multi-coloured suitcases. Smoke swarms from the exhaust, creating a hazy fog of ash so large I can smell it. We can just make out the text on the doors. 'Camp Raven'.
Camp Raven? Me and Jerry exchange stupefyed looks and blink several times. Yes. Camp Raven.
"Jerry, we're late!" I rise so fast I hear a click in my ankles. Me and Jerry swiftly do our secret handshake then I leg it down the hill, over the barrier and down the pavement. No one can see due to the monster of blackness creeping over the town, yet I can just make out when it's safe to cross. Our house is detatched, and I can see it in the distance. I jambade a wall, a fence and an eletricated fence which, despite the warning, is so weak the only danger you can get is a gash from the snapped metal wire. The front door is only steps away.
I burst in, surprised the door hasn't come from it's hinges, to see Mother and Tylor's indignant faces glaring at me as if I were their prey. I swoop down and grasp the case and haul the rucksack to my back, sweating like a maniac. The bus pulls up in front of my house, it's fumes blocking the window view.
We exchange quick goodbyes over Tylor's ear-piercing cries, then I board the bus to hell.
~ ◊ ~
There's a peculiar stench of fish and chips lingering around the seat at the back that I've chosen, old fish and chips. The seats are snug and thermal, which is not ideal on a hot summer's day. I look around, trying to draw my attention from the humid feeling indoors to the fact neither Jerry or Oscar have boarded the bus.
Ah. Spoke too soon. Here comes Oscar. I prepare myself to burst out laughing and take the mick and punch him again, but my amusment halts when I get a full glance of him. He's changed. His hair has been dyed a shade of light caramel, and he's become scariliy muscular, and he must be wearing contacts as his eyes are now a sweet speckled brown colour instead of vomit green. And his suitcase doesn't look so full; you can picture about five shirts in there and that's all. No sign of Jerry.
The bus pulls up, the brakes being slammed down repeatedly, resulting in a strident tumult shaking the bus and its passengers spines. No Jerry. Oscar's staring at Sydney as she makes her way to the front seat in a lavender tank-top and denim shorts. She must be freezing, despite the temperature shooting up. Her platinum hair falls in waves down her sculptured face, and her bag is absolutely midget. Show-off, I think. She's gonna get killed when it comes to night walking. Still, no sign of Jerry.
As the gridlocked roads disappear and we enter the picturesque countryside, I lean against the window, my feet swung up on the other seat. I promptly swap my trainers for my leather boots and relax. Looks like I'll be stuck with the boy I hate and the girl I barely even know but still hate. Brilliant.
"Wake up, we're here!" I instantly awake, my neck twinging, regaining my sight gradually as the details turn from hazy to sharp. The bus is parked next to bountiful other buses, and a cluster of children, all different genders and ages, swarm around like fish in an ocean. I leap for my bags, which suddenly feel weightless, and bounce down the steps to join the bevy. Several young adults in beryl and silver uniforms gate around, yaking with a bitsy percentage of the attendents of the camp. A large banner is propelled by two poles, reading 'Camp Raven' in collosal aquamarine letters and the emblem of the camp: the raven landing upon a branch, enclosed in a grey ring. Rows of capacious wooden cabins are just visable in the distance.
"Katalynn!" It's his voice, and before I can fully turn, a pair of athletic arms wrap themselves around me.
"I thought you weren't coming!" I shove Jerry off me and drop my bags so I can hug him properly. "Where we you on the bus? I didn't see you board!"
"Another bus came round to pick up any people they'd missed," he explains, and I nod and flex my arm to retrieve my duffel, but it's disappeared. I look around, bewildered, which doesn't aid my aching neck until I catch a glimpse of one of the staff resting it on their shoulder.
"Hey, that's mine!" I call and chase after the person, but am too slow. My duffel gets tossed into a towering heap of bags and I swipe it a second before a ton of other people's duffels fall onto the pile.
"This is definently your first time here!" a familiar voice says, and I spirel to see Sydney standing there, small fist on her hip, scoffing.
"How can you tell?" I ask, not particulaly bothered in which direction the conversation is going. I'd rather fight my bag out of a mountain that talk to a scrawny selfish vixen.
"You didn't know how to grab your duffel before the aides tossed it into the heap." She flicks her hair and struts off, the sound of her sandels hitting the ground is still audible from the other side of the floor. Me and Jerry exchange glances and chortle.
An elderly woman with grey, wispy hair and wrinkled lips stands on a podium, a microphone in her hand, rambling on and on about what to do and introducing all the staff. I listen, unlike most of the kids who are busy texting or ringing home or texting each other or just nattering. "Ok? So, now, I'm going to hand over to my daughter, Eleanor Jr., who'll read out the teams," A young woman with firery crimson hair and squinty eyes and scarlett cheeks steps up from the second step to the first and, cradling a clipboard in her arms, takes the microphone.
"Okay, listen up! LISTEN UP!" The whole audience deadens and fixes their eyes on the woman. "I'm gonna call out your names and tell you what teams your in. There's a row of cabins over there," she points to the boxes I noticed earlier. "Cabins on the left for girls and cabins on the right for boys. Okay, to start us off: Hadie, Lucy!" I watch an arm reach up as high as it will go. "Team Hawks ! First cabin on the left!" A young girl, no older than twelve with charcoal curls runs in front of my and hoists open the door of the first cabin. "Cleland, Bruce! Deloria, Elizabeth! Roland, Fleur!" I tap my foot, fatigued. Jerry instantly apes me, and I jam him in the ribs. Hard. He doubles over and nudges me harder, yet I don't show any pain, even though my chest is now throbbing.
"Huxley, Katelynn!" My ears prick up and I vigourously jump on the spot, my arm extended.
"It's Katalynn!" I shout back.
"Sorry! Team Bluejays ! Third cabin on the left, go!" I scamper to the cabin, standing in it's ebony shadow, waiting for Jerry to be placed.
"Appleton, Jeremiah! Team Hummingbirds ! Second cabin on the right!" I exhale in disappointment as Jerry flings open the door of his cabin after he shrugs innocently at me. I roll my eyes and stare back at the wood. The steps up to the door are those flat ones with gaps inbetween each one (I hated going up those kinds of steps ever since I was five. I fell through a gap at a shopping centre and fell ten feet. Good thing one of the staff caught me in time). My boots weigh the splintered wood down, the center of each plank curving as I step on it. The window on the door's razed, the hinges enervated, the doorknob flaccid; the maintenance man ought to be sacked, I think as I absorb the cabin's disorderliness, and the quaint smell of sand coming from somewhere. As I look back, I realise why my shoes felt so strange as I was walking along the path. It was not grass I was ambling across, it was shriveled ash, parched and heather-grey earth, the remains of a fire.
TO BE CONTINUED...